With the recent flurry of articles on the Toyota 2000GT (here, here and here), it got us to thinking about the great car’s racing history. Oh sure; it had the usual smattering of victories in JDM races at home, but what may be surprising is that at one time, the 2000GT was the subject of a comprehensive factory-backed race effort led by none other than the great Carroll Shelby.
Le Mans winner, F1 racing veteran, father of the AC Cobra and Shelby Mustang, Carroll Shelby was (and is!) a very canny businessman. And in the 1960s he was the Toyota distributor for the state of Texas.
At the time, Toyota was trying to break into the US market with low priced, high quality economy cars. So it must have been a surprise when Toyota approached Carroll Shelby with a $500,000 budget to field the 2000GT in production sports car racing. Specifically, the class was the 1968 season of SCCA C/Production, where cars like the Triumph TR250 and the Porsche 911 were already dominant.
Shelby was given two 2000GTs, one of which was serial number 10001, the very first production car off the line, to turn into racing winners. Behind the wheel were drivers Scooter Patrick and Dave Jordan.
Straight away the 2000GTs needed a lot of development. The drivers praised the handling, which was enhanced by custom made 15×7 magnesium wheels with special low profile racing tyres, and very low suspension (the wheels and tyres alone lowered the ride height by 2.5inches). But the Shelby engineers had problems getting good reliable power out of the engines and they blew a whole bunch of them up. The Yamaha-designed head was not easy to modify for more compression, and C/Prod rules stipulated that the 2000GT would have to use triple Mikuni carbs, rather than the preferred Webers (which would have yielded more power). Just the same, the racing cars rolled onto the grid with 200hp and with the reliability issues sorted.
Beautifully prepared, the Shelby Toyotas brought the fight right up to the class leading Porsches, run by the renowned Vasek Polak Racing Team. The races were close and hard—with lots of paint-swapping between the Toyotas and the Porsches—but at the end of the season it was Porsche 1st and 2nd, with the Toyotas of Scooter Patrick and Dave Jordan in 3rd and 4th respectively.
While it would have been nice to have a Cinderella ending with a Toyota championship win, it should be remembered that the 2000GTs were in their very first racing season, and were being developed into racing cars from scratch. The Shelby team were pleased and the 1969 season was looking good.
So it must have been gutted the team when Toyota informed the team that at the end of the year it would be pulling out of the championship, leaving the 2000GT with a forever unfulfilled potential. But the truth was that Toyota had sold only 62 2000GTs in the USA, and the marketing benefits of the racing program were of dubious benefit given that Toyota were focusing on the economy car market… By today’s standards, try to imagine if, say, Kia brought out a Ferrari competitor and started racing it!
Alas, we can but wonder that if maybe Toyota had given the 2000GT a chance to blossom it might have formed a dynasty of sports cars that lasted through the decades, just like the 911. Nah… Toyota’s far too sensible for that. But anyway, here’s a Youtube!